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Watchdog warns Israel may not be ready for disaster

Nine years after requesting comprehensive emergency plan, comptroller still waiting for government action

Illustrative of Magen David Adom paramedics during Turning Point 15, a large-scale Home Front drill held in Israel in June 2015. (Magen David Adom)
Illustrative of Magen David Adom paramedics during Turning Point 15, a large-scale Home Front drill held in Israel in June 2015. (Magen David Adom)

A lack of home front preparedness leaves Israeli citizens at risk in any major emergency that could hit the country, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said in a damning report published Wednesday.

Noting that many problems mentioned in earlier reports had never been deal with by the government, Shapira warned that the country is not prepared for a large-scale war, which would test the resilience of the home front, nor for natural disasters or extreme weather. According to the report, residents of periphery communities and towns are at greater risk than Israelis living in major cities.

The reports cite the snowstorm of December 2013 as an example of a weather-related crisis for which the country is unprepared. During the storm, electricity outages occurred in many areas of the country, including whole neighborhoods of Jerusalem that were cut off for up to four days.

“This test case exposed severe problems in the organization and regulation of the home front in emergency situations,” Shapira wrote.

The comptroller pointed out problems in the home front’s preparedness for emergencies in the wake of the 2006 Second Lebanon War. “Since then,” he wrote, “Israeli governments and the relevant authorities worked to advance treatment in issues relating to the civilian home front, but there are still many gaps in the capabilities of relevant bodies to prepare the home front in cases of emergency. There is no clear definition of fields of responsibility between the defense minister, who is in charge of the Home Front Command and the IDF, and the public security minister who is in charge of the police.”

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, October 29, 2014 (Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, October 29, 2014 (Flash90)

“Treating all aspects of the home front is especially significant, since no one can tell when the next emergency event will take place, and it can even be an event with no prior warning, like a surprise war or a serious earthquake. [The state] must avoid further delays” and take steps to correct the flaws immediately, Shapira wrote.

Shapira noted several areas in which the state is unprepared for emergencies.

He devoted a whole section of the report to Israel’s power grid, noting that the Israel Electric Corporation could not efficiently cope with problems during the storm of 2014, Operation Protective Edge and the harsher days of the past winter. “The Energy Ministry should ensure that the Israel Electric Corporation fix areas where it is lacking as soon as possible,” he said.

Israel’s transportation system has “no mechanism to ensure that critical employees continue working [during emergencies,” he wrote. The train line between Ashkelon and Sderot is not secured and civilian air traffic is also not prepared for unusual conditions. “Continuous traffic of security forces, rescue authorities, assistive forces and carriers of medicine and equipment should be as continuous as possible, while at the same time enabling free traffic for civilians and in case it becomes necessary, their swift evacuation from dangerous areas.

Shapira expressed concern that “during an emergency, some of the factories making up the chain of supply of crucial products will have difficulty meeting their production targets.” The stocks of emergency supplies across the country are lower than they should be, and no criteria have been set for emergency quotas. Shapira called on the Economy Ministry to regulate the subject as soon as possible.

Israelis sit and pray together inside a street shelter, in anticipation of the Code Red siren alerting of incoming rockets, in the Southern Israeli town of Nitzan, on the fourth day of Operation Protective Edge, July 11, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israelis sit and pray together inside a street shelter, in anticipation of the Code Red siren alerting of incoming rockets, in the Southern Israeli town of Nitzan, on the fourth day of Operation Protective Edge, July 11, 2014 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The IDF predicts that future wars will be “of much larger scale and severity” than Operation Protective Edge, wrote the comptroller. Shapira said on Tuesday ahead of the publication of the report that it would deal “with the expected war scenario, in which hundreds and maybe thousands of rockets will be shot at the Israeli home front, or a natural disaster like a severe earthquake.”

The Defense Ministry said in response to the report that as of June 2014, the National Emergency Authority (NEA) had completed the process of dividing fields of responsibility between different national authorities. “The authorities will be anchored in the ‘Home Front Law’ which will bestow upon the NEA the relevant power to operate with government ministries, local councils and other bodies active in times of peace or in times of emergency,” the statement said.

The ministry announced that a new assessment of the home front’s preparedness will be brought to the defense minister next week, based on the conclusions drawn during “Turning Point 15,” a recent nationwide home front drill. A five-year working plan will be prepared based on the assessment, the ministry said, and will be based on a dedicated budget that will be approved for this purpose by the defense minister and the government.

The IDF also completed another four-day exercise Wednesday to “improve the competence” of its command structure, with both Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot taking part in the drill.

The exercise, led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen, tested the abilities and preparedness of the regional commands, Home Front Command, IDF intelligence, Operations Directorate and communication networks.

The IDF stressed that this drill, was “planned ahead of time as part of the 2015 training schedule, with the goal of improving the IDF’s preparedness for emergencies.”

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